Mumbai Cyber Police Demand Personal Details of Modi Critics

— Mumbai cyber police are demanding that U.S. tech companies hand over personal details of Internet users who insulted Indian PM Narendra Modi

Last year, I blogged about efforts by Mumbai’s “cyber police crime division” to purge the Internet of doctored images of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Since that post, the officiously censorious division has refocused its efforts on trying to scrub the Internet of derogatory terms associated with the famously gaffe-prone Indian PM.

Narendra Modi (source)

Recently, the division sent Google a criminal complaint ordering the removal of all search results for “Feku No. 1,” a derogatory Hindi slang term that, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to “[a] person who tries to project himself as a people’s leader by spreading false propaganda using paid media and crony capitalists.”

The term became synonymous with Modi in 2013 when a political opponent used it to mock the Indian PM and, according to the complaint, is allegedly intended to “outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,Defamation” and “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The complaint was filed by senior inspector Ravi Sardesai, who according to one news report is “an old hand at handling cyber crime.”

In a separate criminal complaint, Sardesai also recently ordered Google to remove all search results for “CHUTIYA modi.” According to Urban Dictionary, Chutiya is “[a] uniquely Indian expletive [that] classifies the recipient as either an idiot, or an ignoramus or someone behaving stupidly. Derived from Chut, Hindi for vagina.”

But Sardesai’s most aggressively heavy-handed demand, listed as a “TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA,” sought that U.S. tech companies, including Google and YouTube, immediately furnish mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses of creators of the offending content.

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Section 91 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure permits “any officer in charge of a police station” to request “any document or other thing” from “the person in whose possession…such document or thing is believed to be.”

A quick scan of the invaluable Lumen Database, which archives online takedown demands, shows that Sardesai has sent dozens of similar demands within the past year, most of which include requests to “BLOCK/DELETE” a seemingly endless flow of allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” of Modi.

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Per my previous post on the Mumbai cyber division’s legal shenanigans, those photos include a widely shared photoshopped image of Modi homoerotically embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on a beach.

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Mumbai Cyber Police Shut Down Gay Modi Photoshop

— BuzzFeed deletes homoerotic photoshop of Indian prime minister following legal threats from Mumbai police, highlighting gay rights issues, censorship in India

The doctored image, which depicts Indian PM Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, is one of 18 related images included in a January 4, 2016 BuzzFeed listicle by Imaan Sheikh, “18 Modi Photoshops That Should’ve Never Fucking Happened.”

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On Wednesday, that number mysteriously dropped to 17.

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In a comment, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said:

BuzzFeed India removed the image in question after receiving a notice from the Mumbai Police alleging defamation.

It’s not the first time police in Mumbai have tried to censor the homoerotic photoshop.

In November, Mumbai’s cyber crime department ordered Google to block the allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” as published on BuzzFeed, Facebook, Twitter, and others, on the basis that the offending images were intended to “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The department also demanded that Google hand over personal information about the creator of the photos, including mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses. 

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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As of publication, all but two of the flagged Facebook links are still searchable using Google.

There’s no evidence Google possesses or handed over any of the requested personal information.

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in India. A colonial-era law still in force today, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, forbids “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”—that includes gay sex—with offenders facing fines and up to 10 years in jail.

India’s home minister, who is depicted as Modi’s beau in the gay beach photoshop, previously said he supported Section 377 because “we [referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is chaired by Modi] believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act that cannot be supported.”

Recently, publishers have joined gay Indians in the legal cross hairs.

As reported by The Washington Post earlier this week, it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” for journalists and editors in India to do their jobs due to frivolous legal threats by Modi loyalists.

Loyalists to the country’s powerful Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, have bullied editors into taking down critical stories, hushed government bureaucrats and shifted from the common practice of filing defamation cases to lodging more serious criminal complaints, which can mean jail time and take years in India’s overburdened court system.

Modi, popular but thin-skinned, has effectively cut off the mainstream media, forgoing news conferences to communicate directly with his vast electorate through Twitter, where he has 40 million followers. India fell three spots on the World Press Freedom Index to 136 in 2017, according to the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, below Afghanistan and Burma, because of growing self-censorship and the activity of Hindu nationalists trying to purge “anti-nationalist” thought, the group said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for electronics and information technology, denies that his government has attempted to impede press freedom.

Via the WashPost:

[Prasad] said any suggestion that the government was hampering press freedom was “completely wrong.”

“Obviously you can see how many newspapers and channels are critical of us, blasting my government,” he said.